Sloppy first half costs Munster as Leinster run riot

Ian Keatley goes in for a try in Munster's 34-24 defeat to Leinster at Thomond Park. Photo Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

MUNSTER WENT down to their first home defeat since February as they lost to Leinster 34-24 in their Guinness PRO14 St Stephen’s Day clash at Thomond Park.

Leinster raced into a 27-5 lead in the opening 40 minutes and despite a much improved second-half showing, Johann van Graan’s charges left themselves too big a mountain to climb.

Munster were dealt a couple of blows before the game with both Keith Earls and Rhys Marshall failing to take the field, despite being named in the starting 15.

The writing was on the wall from the very first minute when Leinster openside flanker Dan Leavy won a penalty deep in Munster territory that Ross Byrne exquisitely converted from the right touchline.

Leinster were soon on the front foot once again with Byrne’s cross-field kick leaving Leavy with an easy finish for the game’s first try.

Byrne converted Leavy’s score and then nailed his second penalty of the afternoon to put Leinster into a commanding 13-0 lead with less than 15 minutes on the clock.

Munster immediately responded with a Conor Murray try after a sustained period of pressure but Leinster soon hit back.

Conor Murray used as an unorthodox lineout jumper in Munster’s defeat to Leinster at Thomond Park. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

An excellent Rory O’Loughlin grubber kick set James Lowe away down the left wing and after consulting with his TMO, referee Nigel Owens adjudged that Andrew Conway had denied Lowe a try scoring opportunity.

He subsequently awarded a penalty try to Leinster and an Andrew Conway a yellow card.

Munster were shell-shocked after a horror 20 minutes and things didn’t get much better when Robbie Henshaw finished off a sensational Leinster move that involved Jordan Larmour, Barry Daly and O’Loughlin.

Byrne made no mistake with the conversion to put Leinster into a commanding 22 point advantage at the interval.

Munster needed a strong start to the second-half to have any chance of making a sensational comeback and got it with an Ian Keatley try on 45 minutes.

The out-half spotted a gap after some trojan work from his forwards and sprinted under the posts for a score that he converted himself.

A moment of magic from Conway cut the gap even further moments later. After taking a pass from Niall Scannell, Conway swerved past a couple of would be tacklers to score a wonder try. Keatley added the extras and Leinster’s lead was now back to just eight points.

The Thomond Park crowd were now in full voice as Munster hunted another try. Van Graan’s men laid siege to the Leinster line but were repelled by a well-drilled defensive effort.

Strong carries from CJ Stander and James Cronin almost gave Munster the try they needed but a Leavy earned penalty at the breakdown got Leinster out of jail and they then put the result beyond doubt when Larmour scored the try of the game.

He took advantage of a poor clearance to run the ball back at the Munster defence and did so with devastating effect, beating a host of defenders and touch down after a 70 metre break.

Byrne kicked the conversion to put Leinster 34-19 ahead and despite Conway’s second try late on, Leinster were full value for the bonus point win.

MUNSTER: Andrew Conway, Darren Sweetnam, Sam Arnold, Rory Scannell, Alex Wootton, Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Kevin O’Byrne, Stephen Archer, Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland, Peter O’Mahony, Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander; SUBS: Niall Scannell, James Cronin, John Ryan, Darren O’Shea, Jack O’Donoghue; Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Simon Zebo.

LEINSTER: Jordan Larmour, Barry Daly, Rory O’Loughlin, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe, Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Jack McGrath, James Tracy, Michael Bent, Devin Toner, James Ryan, Jordi Murphy, Dan Leavy, Jack Conan; Subs: Richardt Strauss, Ed Byrne, Tadhg Furlong, Mick Kearney, Josh van der Flier; Nick McCarthy, Cathal Marsh, Noel Reid.

REFEREE: Nigel Owens (Wales)